Buddhism is divided into two main divisions and several sub divisions based on country and culture, however most traditions share a fundamental set of beliefs. One fundamental belief of Buddhism is often referred to as reincarnation however this is not strictly correct. The Buddhist belief is rebirth rather than reincarnation. The internet site Religious Tolerance explains it in the following way.
“In reincarnation, the individual may recur repeatedly. In rebirth, a person does not necessarily return to Earth as the same entity ever again. He compares it to a leaf growing on a tree. When the withering leaf falls off, a new leaf will eventually replace it. It is similar to the old leaf, but it is not identical to the original leaf.”
Other fundamental beliefs include the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the five precepts. The three jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community) and taking refuge in them is the basis of Buddhist practice. The four noble truths are the universality of suffering, the origin of suffering, the overcoming of suffering and the way leading to the suppression of suffering.
The way or path is known as the eightfold path and consists of ditthi: viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be, sankappa: intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness, vāc (vāca): speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way, karman (kammanta): acting in a non-harmful way, ājīvana (ājīva): a non-harmful livelihood, vyāyāma (vāyāma): making an effort to improve, sati: awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion, samādhi (samādhi): correct meditation or concentration.
The five precepts outline Buddhist ethics. Do not kill, be kind to all creatures. Do not steal, give rather than take. Do not lie, be honest and open. Do not misuse sex and do not consume alcohol or use recreational drugs.
Just as the Hindu and Buddhist explanations of reincarnation and rebirth differ so too does the use us the term nirvana. In Hinduism it is union with the Supreme Being, to aesthetic holy men in various Indian religions including Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism it is the state of being free from suffering and in Buddhism it takes on its literal meaning of “blowing out” or extinguishing the fires of hatred, greed and delusion. Nirvana is also characterized by transcendental knowledge or bodhi a concept translated into English as ‘enlightenment’. The Buddha himself never gave an exact definition of Nirvana. However there is no God in Buddhism, rather, by breaking the cycle of rebirth and achieving enlightenment Buddhists believe that they will reach the state of Nirvana – eternal being, the end of suffering, a state where there are no desires and individual consciousness has come to an end.